Focusing on the End during Advent

Jared Staudt

Advent focuses on three comings of Christ, according to St. Bernard: “In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty” (Sermon 5, In Adventu Domini). 

By focusing on the coming of God into the world at Christmas, we should also realize more fully our need for Christ right now. He should be born in us more fully during Advent and Christmas. These two comings, however, point us to the fullness of time when “Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). The first two comings are meant to bring us to the full union with God that will only happen at the end of our lives. Death becomes a new birth, and also, perhaps surprisingly, a cause for hope.  

Scott Hahn’s new book, Hope to Die: The Christian Meaning of Death and the Resurrection of the Body (Emmaus, 2020), looks at how Christ transformed our understanding of death and how the Church has honored the physical human body. Death was a great mystery in the ancient world, including the Old Testament. God slowly revealed his plan in salvation history to remake all creation, including the human body. Jesus’s own resurrection powerfully confirms this, showing that the human body has a place in eternal life, rather than simply being cast off upon death. Jesus spoke often of the resurrection, but Hahn clarifies that “it’s not Jesus’s own Resurrection about which he talks the most. The resurrection that he is far more concerned with is ours” (57). Jesus came not only to save us; he wanted to remake us for eternal life. As the Church awaits the resurrection of all the dead, she honors the dead, caring for the deceased body and venerating the relics of the saints.  

Returning to the second coming described by Bernard, this happens most fully in the Eucharist. In fact, receiving the Eucharist becomes the source of the transformation of our own bodies, enabling them to share now in Christ’s resurrection. “It is through this mysterious exchange of grace that the Eucharist becomes the instrumental cause of our resurrection. It works in our souls as both food and medicine, feeding us with God’s life, healing our souls of the effects of venial sin, and making us, day by day, into saints … Lastly, it is the Eucharist that imbues our mortal bodies with the capacity to be divinized and gloried and resurrected in the Body of Christ” (77-78). In the Eucharist, the goal, the final coming, is already made present to us and prepares us for everlasting life.  

Because Jesus transformed death, we treat the body as something sacred both in life and death. Christians do not view the body as a temporary shell that is cast off at death. To be a human being is to be a body-soul unity forever. After the resurrection of the body, “your body will still be your body and you will still be you. The same soul you have now will once more be united to the same body (albeit resurrected and glorified) that you have now” (94). With this goal in mind, Christians have always buried the body with reverence, refusing to burn it or treat it with disrespect. Although cremation has quickly become normal, and the Church has tolerated it without approving it, Hahn fears it may signal a devaluing of the body and its importance, even after death. “Cremation teaches people lessons about the body that are directly contrary to what the Church actually believes. It teaches that the body is disposable. It teaches that the body is not an integral part of the human person. And it teaches that the body has no value once the soul is gone — that the body has run its course, and there will be nothing more for it. No resurrection. No transformation” (154). Hahn calls us to return to traditional practices of burial and honoring the dead, which would testify to our beliefs about death and the resurrection.  

Christmas is a perfect time to think about the body and its destiny. God becomes man in the incarnation, forever uniting himself to our life. His entrance into the world calls us to prepare for our end, our everlasting destiny. Hahn points out that there are two different types of life and death — one related to body and the other to soul (16). God redeemed us as a whole person, both body and soul, but he wants us to live in the body in a way that testifies to the preeminence of love and eternal life with God, not fearing bodily death, but death to the soul. In the Church’s wisdom, she points us to the third coming of Christ during Advent. In our prayer, let’s focus on the great gift that Christ brings to us at Christmas: a resurrected and perfect life with him in heaven, truly alive in both body and soul.  

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!